When most of us imagine holiday home decorations, our minds likely jump to glitzy ornaments, extravagant centerpieces, and heavily detailed mantle scapes. Emily Aitken, an interior designer based in Ontario, Canada loves Christmas and holiday decor, but is breaking the stereotype of the traditional vision by adding her own minimalist and earthly spin on it. You can see how she skips the usual reds and golds for some more natural orange and green hues you tend to see a lot of in nature at this time of year, and adds other elements like wood and leaves to give her home a cozy, yet organic feel.
Take a tour of Emily’s lovely abode and read her advice on how to incorporate modern design and minimalism into your holiday decor, how to decorate on a budget, and how to go about decorating a small space.
Name: Emily Aitken, Interior Designer / Creative Director at Zilli Home Interiors
Location: Listowel, Ontario
Sq. Ft: 1,800
When do you start decorating for the holidays?
Before midnight on Halloween! As soon as the last trick-or-treaters leave, my pumpkins are tossed into the compost and my stockings are hung on the mantle. Since Canadian Thanksgiving is in October, we switch right over to holiday mode. However, I wait until after Remembrance day (November 11th) to set up our tree.
Tell us about your holiday decorating process.
I usually start brainstorming and perusing Pinterest around October. I find the process of planning and collecting inspiration so enjoyable.
How do you budget when it comes to decorating seasonally?
I like to invest in neutral seasonal staples like candlesticks, vases, and trays. These items can stay up into the new year. Since I tend to stick to metallics, wood tones, and glass, I can easily change up my holiday look each year by adding pops of color. I also love using natural elements like magnolia leaves, berries, and greenery to add a festive flair. This also gives me freedom to change next season.
Where do you shop for holiday decor?
Shopping at local boutiques is important to me. I love Wills in Prior in Stratford, Ontario, and the greenhouse is also amazing. I usually order my ribbon and wrapping paper on Amazon — it saves time and I can always find exactly what I am looking for.
Do you have any holiday traditions that are special to you?
My fiance’s family is Swiss, so it’s their tradition to celebrate on Christmas Eve. My mother-in-law decorates her home in such a magical way (and if you haven’t tried the traditional meal of Raclette, you are missing out!).
Do you have any tips for readers who may live in smaller apartments (and who are on a budget) who might not be able to decorate to their heart’s desire?
My advice would be that a little greenery goes a long way — even if you just add a sprig of greenery to a vase or a bowl of ornaments on your coffee table. Mini string lights are also great, especially during the dark winter months. They just make you feel happy and festive!
What was your childhood home decorated like at the holidays, compared to your own as an adult? Did you take any influence from your childhood when putting your own together?
I definitely got my decor gene from my mom. I grew up on a farm in the country and my mom collected lots of figurines and folk-art type decor. She’s a little bit more of a maximalist than me. She’s always trying to give me her things, but I try to be selective because I don’t like a lot of clutter.
How has decorating for the holidays evolved over the years for you?
When I was renting I would add just a bit of greenery, like a wreath. However, once you get your first home, I feel like decorating your own space for the holidays is one of the best parts.
Have you slowly been collecting your holiday decor over the years, or did you purchase it all at once?
I collect a bit each season. I feel like this creates a more curated look and makes it feel more lived-in.
Do you have a favorite ornament on your tree?
I usually don’t decorate with ornaments! The past two years I have only used bows to decorate the tree. I like the simplicity, and it also allows me to change my color scheme without a big investment.
What’s your favorite piece of holiday decor that you own?
My favorite piece of decor is probably my wicker tree collar. I purchased the Hearth & Hand one this year.
Overall, what’s your favorite thing about celebrating in your home?
I love to entertain! Decorating the table, lighting candles, planning the menu — to me there’s nothing better.
What does your Christmas morning look like?
We like to sleep in and ease into the day with a late breakfast. Then, we head to my parents to open gifts with my family. I love to watch my niece and nephew open their presents.
Do you have any holiday traditions you haven’t started yet, but are planning to?
I love holiday movies and specials. I can’t wait to see Kasey Musgraves Christmas special. She has such a cool aesthetic.
Emily Aitken is The Everygirl…
Hot chocolate or hot cider? Cider
Favorite Christmas movie? Home Alone of course! But also The Holiday — there is nothing better than a Nancy Myers Christmas film
Favorite Starbucks holiday drink? Caramel Bruleé (half sweet)
The best gift you’ve ever given? My friend is an artist and she did a portrait for me to give to a friend. Personalized gifts are always a good idea.
The great debate: when do you start listening to Christmas music? Privately, November 1st. Publicly, December 1st
What’s at the top of your Christmas list this year? Jewelry from Leah Alexandra — literally anything on their site, but I would love a gold locket.